Monday, August 06, 2007

Signing in

I have not blogged in a while, for which this is no apology, but a finely brewed cocktail of the silent thoughts that stirred within me during the past three months. Last June, I flew back home after spending two years in exile and returned just over a week ago. Perhaps I should start where my holiday ended.

Seated in the departure lounge at the Bandaranaike Airport with a friend who was also getting back with me – perhaps our sad faces being starkly contrasted by the excited throng of 125 senior scouts making their way to a jamboree in England – I looked up to see three supersonic fighter jets of the Sri Lanka Air Force take off with a thundering roar. I had dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot all my life and for a moment, that dream came back. As they banked shapely soon after taking off, I imagined the G-forces and the thrill of riding in one of those cockpits. As we strolled through the duty free shops, I wondered what their target was, as my friend commented about how he would dread to be a terrorist in whatever place they were going to attack in a few minutes. I briefed him on the science of it and that ordinary terrorist combatants on the ground don’t even hear supersonic aircraft until well after they have bombed them and turned around to go back.

Forty five minutes later, it was time to board our plane and an hour later as our aircraft was taxiing on to the runway, the three jets landed just ahead of us and almost magically disappeared in a few seconds. It was then that I realised the depth of what I had witnessed during that hour – that someone not too far away would have lost a parent, a child, a spouse or sibling, a loved one, a friend. They will cry, mourn, there will be a funeral if they could find the mortal remains of someone who was alive at the time I saw the jets taking off, but was dead an hour later. Out of the hundreds of friends and loved ones I met during the last seven and a half weeks, some will call it a victory over terrorism and rejoice, some will at least hurt even though they may not mourn the loss of a person who speaks their language and worships the same God. Some will not even know.

It is not easy – even after a week – for me to describe, let alone define what I felt then. What I felt about the country and people I was leaving behind, the faces of loved ones, the warmth of friends, the smiles of strangers, the emerald green treetops and gleaming paddy fields that never seem to change, the narrow cratered roads and the rickety vehicles that whistle past on them… but I had never seen a supersonic jet take off on a sortie before, so that image never came up in my mind when I thought about home… but it does now…

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